Pupils flee as blaze hits school grounds

PUPILS at a Suffolk boarding school had a lucky escape yesterday as fire ravaged its grounds, stopping just short of the school building.

The blaze took hold of gorse at the rear of Saint Felix School near Southwold at about 3.30pm yesterday.

Headteacher David Ward said that if the wind had not changed at a vital moment the flames would have reached the school.

“It happened just after lunchtime, we evacuated the building, the children were superb,” he said. “It was at the back of the school near the sports hall and the fire came within 15ft of the building. We were lucky the wind changed when it did – without that the flames would have affected the building.”

Mr Ward praised the fire service for its swift action to tackle the blaze.

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Mr Ward said: “They were fantastic, it was quite an impressive fire. At one point it really came very close to the school.

“We don’t know for sure what started the fire, but we think it was a can or bottle in the sunlight that set it off, and up it went.

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“We had a lucky escape, the fire brigade, the children and staff all reacted really well.”

Eye witness Denise Burrows said she was driving past the school on her way from her home in Chediston to Southwold to enjoy the sun when she saw the “whopping flames.”

“We saw these whopping great flames so we stopped and turned around. We could see the gorse was well alight. It was a real shock the flames were really high and quite strong,” she said.

Five fire crews from across north Suffolk spent about three hours bringing the blaze under control.

The independent school is now co-educational, having opened its doors to boys in 2002, and caters for pupils from one year old to 18. It is set in 75 acres of grounds. It was founded in 1897 by Margaret Isabella Gardiner, whose youthful ambition was “to make a school where girls are treated like sensible creatures.”

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